Challenge

work-life balance: Men struggle as much as women to maintain work-life  balance - The Economic Times

I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.

Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.

I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.

I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.

After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.

Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.

I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.

A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.

When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.

The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.

Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Forgive Yourself

I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life agonizing and lamenting some awful decisions I made. Thankfully as time continues to pass, I’ve been able to gain the space I needed to find perspective. Eventually we are able too look back on our younger selves with compassion rather than shame and regret. We begin to realize that we have to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know.

As a child, my family had five dogs at one time. We lived out in the countryside and a lot of our dogs ended up with us because people would drive down our road and abandon them there. Ultimately we were being kind in taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they had all their shots, etc. But my parents would not allow them to live inside the house. It still haunts me to know that those dogs spent so many cold winter days and nights with only a plastic dog house filled with hay to keep them warm, chained in one small area for most of their lives. I still live with a lot of guilt about this which manifests itself in the form of reoccurring dreams where dozens of animals are confined, sick, dying, starving, and forgotten in dirty cramped cages.

I had always blamed myself for the way those dogs lived. Although my sister and I constantly pleaded with my parents to let them live inside, their response was always that if we were so concerned about it, we could give them away. Given this decision I always felt I should have allowed them to find new homes that would have treated them more properly. I was too selfish to do what was right. One day my sister made me realize something though. She said, “That was not our fault. We were children. We shouldn’t have been expected to make such a difficult decision. We loved those dogs and we did our best.” Until that conversation with my sister, I had never really considered the fact that we were merely children. I still have to remind myself of that fact from time to time. Now I’ve even begun to look back at my adolescent mistakes and realize that I was just a kid.

Only since finding another person that I truly love deeply and unconditionally, have I been able to look back at my time in college without immense pain and regret. For a very long time I thought I had destroyed my life. Even though the boyfriend I had back then was incredible and still one of the greatest loves of my life, I cheated on him. Not only that I cheated on him with two different people. Neither of which gave a single shit about me. Ultimately I broke up with that boyfriend in order to continue to explore what else was out there without guilt.

I can’t say what might have happened if I had stayed. All I know is that the years that followed were filled with disappointment, frustration, and heartache. But with my extremely limited romantic experience, how could I have known what I would find? How could I have known that the relationship I had was so uncommon and wonderful? If I hadn’t made the mistakes that I did, I may still be unaware of that. In the end, I’m grateful for the painful lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes. They have allowed me to become the person I am today and to be with another amazing person whom I love dearly.

I’m sure that I will continue to stumble and fall as I move along this path called life. There will be many more difficult lessons for me to learn. I only hope that part of me can remember that despite the pain, time will transform it into something worthwhile. I can recover from my mistakes, learn from them, even be grateful for them one day. But we don’t have to wait for that shift of time and perspective to be kind to ourselves. Punishing or belittling ourselves over our mistakes does not serve us. If nothing else, mistakes are an opportunity to practice self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love. It is also a reminder to be gentle with others as they make their own mistakes.

It's Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral | Time

Changing Adversity Into Opportunity

No one enjoys facing hardships in their lives. Whether that hardship is losing a loved one, a breakup, or even something more harrowing like losing your home to a natural disaster, we all have our own hurdles to overcome. Through most of my life I had that “woe is me” attitude. It felt like my life was so difficult. I was the stereotypical dramatic teenage girl. I never really took the time to wonder if there might be a different way I could view the challenges in my life. It’s especially hard in the moment.

It can be helpful to prep ourselves for the inevitable hard days ahead of us. One way I like to do this is to look back on past negative experiences. Usually once we’ve put some time and space between ourselves and the event, it is much easier to put it in a new context. A lot of things that once seemed like they’d be the end of me have become moments I look back on with pride. Without a lot of the negative experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t be nearly as strong and resilient as I am today. In hindsight, they were blessings rather than burdens.

Using this mind-frame, try to practice viewing even current dilemmas through the same lens. Surely it will be a bit harder, but it’s worth the effort. When you find yourself facing difficult moments, notice where your thoughts go. Mine usually revert back to that tried and true narrative of, “no surprise, this always happens to me, I can never catch a break,” or “why me?” Rather than allowing yourself to get swept away by these unhelpful thoughts and the emotions attached to them, get curious instead.

Try asking yourself some pre-prepared questions. It can be good to keep these questions written down somewhere easy to access when you need them. When a situation arises, we will likely be too emotional/upset/frustrated to think clearly and come up with ways to spark our curiosity on the spot. A few go to questions may be:

  • Why is this particular circumstance uncomfortable for me?
  • What is this experience/person trying to teach me?
  • How might I someday be stronger because of this?
  • In what ways can I see this as an opportunity?
  • What aspects of my personality does this scenario emphasize?
  • Do I like these aspects of myself? Why or why not?
  • How might I use this moment as a way to strengthen/lessen these parts of myself?

By staying curious, we cancel out a lot of the immediate anger or dismay that we normally experience when faced with something unpleasant. It’s almost as though our interest has the power to short circuit our outrage. When we look at these struggles through a less emotional lens, there is a lot we can learn about ourselves, others, and this beautiful world we live in.

Sometimes the most important lesson we can learn from our issues is that it’s okay to feel upset, angry, sad, anxious, etc. While these things may be unpleasant, they are just feelings, and we are on this earth to experience the full scope of them. When we make a big deal out of the feelings in general, we end up making our suffering even worse than it has to be. If you find yourself unable to get curious about how this situation may teach you something useful or give you an opportunity for self-growth, at the very least remind yourself that it’s okay to feel upset. All things pass, and so will whatever you may be facing in your life right now.

Types of Adversity: Six Examples & How to Overcome Them • Andrew Roche

Positive Things About Long Distance

Even though it hasn’t been that long since my boyfriend moved out of the area, it’s already starting to weigh on me. It has been a few weeks since I last saw him in person. We talk every once and awhile over the phone or on FaceTime. I still feel my heart beginning to grow colder towards him though. I know that once I go visit him at the end of this month, all of those familiar, nervous, lovey-dovey feelings will come flooding back. My issue is how to get those feelings to remain when we’re apart for long periods of time. That’s why today I decided to make a list of positive things about our long distance relationship to focus on.

One: Romantic

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the whole concept of long distance relationships to be rather romantic. It makes me think about women pining over lovers in the war and soldiers writing love letters home or keeping a picture of their wives in their uniform pocket. Nate and I are already planning on writing letters back and forth to one another which I am very much looking forward to. This air of romance is exciting. Although I don’t know how long it will last.

Two: Space

Even though I miss him so much, it’s still nice to have some space from my boyfriend. I have been alone for a long time and I don’t know if I’d be ready to go full force into a new relationship after that. I have a feeling things would be moving along faster than I’m comfortable with if not for the distance separating us. I don’t want to be single anymore, but I still have a lot of personal baggage to workout before inviting someone else into my life fully. For now I’m still enjoying living on my own and having my own space.

Three: Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

One of the most interesting things I remember learning about while getting my degree in psychology was a strange psychological phenomenon that happens all the time without us even realizing it in our conscious minds. I’m sure that it must have a name, but I can’t remember it at the moment, so I’ll just explain it. Apparently when we agree to do something for someone our subconscious makes a justification for it. So while doing a favor for someone might make that person like you more, it also makes you like them more. Isn’t that strange? I always assumed I’d like someone less if I was constantly having to do things for them, but apparently not. Our brains make the rationalization that if we are helping this person, it must be because we really like them. I feel like this phenomenon has a role to play in the time worn phrase: distance makes the heart grow fonder. I think that the mere act of working on a long distance relationship convinces us that we care for someone even more than we already do. The subconscious thinks, “wow, if I’m going through all of this effort, I must really be in love.” I’m hoping my theory is correct and this distance between us serves to bring our hearts closer together.

Four: Momentous Meetings

Oftentimes we begin to take our partners for granted. When we see one another every week or even every day, it begins to lose the magic it once had. We become accustomed to each other and start to lose that mystery and nervousness that make first dates so exciting. Since Nate hasn’t been able to come over for awhile, it has really made the moments we do get to talk to one another or see each other (even through a screen) that much more special. At the end of this month, I will finally be going up to see his new place and spend a few days with him. Normally seeing your boyfriend wouldn’t be a huge deal, but for me it’s going to be not only a mini road trip, but a vacation as well. I am really looking forward to having a few blissful days just soaking in each other’s company and affection.

Five: Time to Talk

It seems to me that a lot of relationships end up being built on unstable foundation. It’s always important to really take the time to get to know someone mentally and emotionally before committing to them. Physical intimacy can accidentally take the place of emotional intimacy. Then once that initial physical attraction begins to fade, partners start to realize that they were never a good match for each other in the first place. Being a very non-sexual person, this works out for me especially well. I may miss being physically close to Nate and I certainly miss spending quality time with him and going out on dates together, but I don’t have to worry about becoming sexually frustrated. I’m perfectly satisfied just having him emotionally for now. I’m hoping that we can develop an even stronger bond this way. It also helps with my self-esteem issues. I know he isn’t just using me for sex if we can’t even have sex.

Well I feel much better after brainstorming some good aspects of my long term relationship. It’s still quite difficult at times, but I am trying to stay positive overall. It’s easy to focus on the negatives in life, but we cause ourselves so much suffering when we allow ourselves to ignore the silver lining of situations. There is always a different perspective to consider.

8 Best Tips to Make a Long-Distance Relationship Work | Time

Working with Resistance

Once again, my yoga class this morning has inspired my writing topic for the day. In my yoga teacher training we learned about something called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.) Essentially this is just using your muscles to resist or push against whatever stretch you are in for a few moments before relaxing the muscles, allowing you to sink and relax even deeper into the pose. It is similar to the idea of clenching different muscles before releasing them to relax more fully and release stress. It is a fascinating and useful technique to be sure.

One of the beautiful things about yoga is that we can take what we learn on the mat out into the rest of our lives. So what can we take with us from PNF? Well it draws our attention to the idea of working with resistance. A lot of the things we do in yoga class can be looked at as metaphors for how to live our lives with more ease. For the most part, people don’t like resistance. We don’t want to have our plans altered or interrupted. We don’t want disagreements or dissent. We just want everything to run smoothly in exactly the way that we want it to. We can even start to feel cheated or hopeless when things don’t go our way.

Using PNF in yoga not only allows our bodies to become more flexible and go deeper into difficult postures, it reminds us that we can use resistance in our everyday lives to our own advantage as well. We just have to be patient and use what life gives us rather than trying to reject it or avoid it. The other day at work my friends and I were discussing the idea of having bad memories changed or erased like in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although it is undoubtedly an interesting, tempting concept, none of us were convinced actually going through with such a procedure would be a good idea or something we would choose for ourselves. Thought experiments like this help us to reflect on the ways in which we can actually be grateful for all of the hardships we have experienced in our lives. In the moment, a lot of the things that happen to us seem unfair, unbearable even, but later on we come to realize that those same events have allowed us to become who we are today. Perhaps they made us stronger, wiser, more resilient, or even led us down a new path we wouldn’t have taken otherwise.

Looking back, it can be easy to see how some of my worst life experiences were worth the pain I went through. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to accept the difficulties I face in my present. I’m trying to remember that PNF perspective though. Even if at first it seems like I’m being held back or led away from where I want to be, it may actually be the opposite. I’m trying to stay strong in the face of adversity and trust that one day I will be grateful for even these painful times. I’m even trying to be grateful for them right now, even though I don’t yet know what they may lead to down the road. All I can do is keep moving forward and have faith that I’ll get to where I want to be one day, despite (or even because of) the struggles along the way.

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Perception & Mental Illness

I went to visit my mom yesterday. We had planned to do taxes, but I told her that I might end up being too anxious to actually get very far. I explained to her how I’d been feeling: racing thoughts, worrying about everything big and small, present and future, feeling rushed, feeling like I’m going to forget something important, etc. My mom seems almost relieved when I tell her these things. Not that she is glad I’m feeling this way, but just knowing that I understand the way she feels.

She tells me that she has felt that way her whole life, overwhelmed with anxiety. But I suppose she wasn’t overwhelmed exactly. She put herself through college, had a career that she excelled in, raised a family, all while paying her bills and taking care of household chores. I often think about this and feel amazed. I can’t imagine having to deal with the shit I put her through as the parent, with this level of mental disfunction. It seems like I would most certainly go mad.

It seems like the only difference between her anxiety and mine, is that I have almost immediately identified and classified it as a disorder. My mom on the other hand was raised in a much less psychologically aware time. Nothing ever led her to believe that what she was experiencing was anything abnormal. It still seems kind of funny from my point of view, but she tells me she just thought everyone felt like she did growing up.

It’s so interesting to think about what a huge difference just that small distinction can make in a life. Two people living with the same level of anxiety, only one knows that there is something wrong, while the other thinks it’s normal to feel this way. Maybe I wouldn’t suffer as much as I do if i wasn’t also piling on more anxiety about being “broken” or “messed up.” At times it seems like a lot of my stress comes from desperately looking for a way to stop or prevent these anxious feelings from happening.

My mom didn’t have this added level of distress. She just carried on with her life despite these feelings. It would almost be a comfort to think that it was normal and everyone around me also struggled with these same feelings. To believe that even with this inner anxiety others managed to do great things and lead happy, peaceful, successful lives. Instead I spend the majority of my time trying to “fix” myself. Resigning myself to mediocrity due to my psychological limitations.

I’ve been thinking once again about starting therapy. I know there are tools that I could learn to help me cope. Even that idea “to cope” implies that these feelings won’t ever go away. I can’t evict this anxiety from my mind. All I can hope to do is learn how to make peace with it, to accept it as a part of me, to stop fighting it. My mom’s life is an excellent example that it is possible. I can live with my anxiety instead of constantly struggling to push it away.

I’ve always been grateful that I live in a time where psychology is widely accepted and understood by the general population. I’ve always loved to learn about the mind and all of it’s different disorders. I feel my peers are able to sympathize with and understand me better than they would have in older generations. But at the same time, I know knowledge and awareness don’t necessarily produce more happiness. Maybe I would have been happier not knowing all the details. Ignorance truly can be bliss.

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What Sustains Us

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This week has felt like an eternity. It’s hard to believe it’s finally over. After working from home most days for months, having a full week at the office with a packed schedule was insanely exhausting. And it looks like I won’t have any less work to do next week either. I consider myself someone who is very easily overwhelmed. So it’s a miracle I’ve been able to keep it together so well this week. It’s been a struggle though.

I’ve been trying really hard to keep the promise to myself I made last week, to use whatever comes my way. Growth is always uncomfortable. And I’m trying to look at this week and the next as chances for growth. Even though it’s been stressful, I must admit there is something satisfying about making it though tough times. It seems like we are always somehow more capable than we think.

As I reflect back on the past few days I feel only gratitude. One of the things I’ve noticed is that when we find ourselves struggling just to keep our head above water, it gets easier to find gratitude for the smallest things. Things I’ve taken for granted for the last few months were the very things that meant everything to me this week. When you are home every day it can be easy to forget just how wonderful it is to be there. To light a candle, to burrow into soft, warm blankets while sharing the body heat of loved ones, to rest your head on a plump pillow at night once the time to rest has finally come, to lovingly prepare a hot meal, to enjoy a cup of tea. All of these things often blur into the background of life. But when it comes down to it, these are the moments that really matter. These are the experiences that sustain us, that make it all worth it.

If given the choice I imagine we’d all prefer for things to always be easy, but it’s actually the difficult times that provide the context that allows us to truly enjoy those easy moments. It always feels extra amazing to rest after you’ve been working hard, to shower after working up a sweat, to eat when you are really hungry, to drink ice cold water after a long run on a summer day. This week has reminded me of that. So as this week finally comes to a close, I am grateful. Not only for the chance to rest and recharge, but for the struggle that will make this time spent resting feel truly divine and well deserved.

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